Normally a soccer star, Fruita Monument's Lila Dere succeeding on the hardwood

Fruita junior Lila Dere (15) dribbles the ball down court during the girl's varsity basketball game against Grand Junction High School at Grand Junction on Friday. This is Dere's first season playing basketball since seventh grade.

Lila Dere's sport is soccer.

It's the sport that has defined her over the years. Soccer is the game of her past, present and future.

But she decided to shift gears this winter and move soccer down to her second sport for a few months.

Friday night, Dere was introduced to a massive dose of intensity when she stepped to the free-throw line.

With the Grand Junction student section screaming at her, Dere admitted that was something she doesn't see in soccer.

"It's really loud," she said, smiling after the Wildcats'  34-28 victory. "It's a lot different than soccer, like when you're at the free-throw line and they are yelling at you."

But that was one thing that lured her back to the sport.

"I've always wanted to be part of these kinds of games. It's one of the main things that made me want to play, to be part of fun games like this," she said.

As a soccer player, Dere is a quick, fast, compact, athletic goal scorer.

This winter, she decided to put her athleticism to the test in basketball, a sport she hasn't played since the seventh grade.

She has made an immediate impact on the Fruita Monument girls basketball team.

"At first, I was just hoping to make the team," she said with a laugh.

Not only did she make the team but she's now a starter and thanks in part to her leadership and hard-nosed toughness on the court, she was voted a captain.

"It's been amazing to be starting and to be a captain," she said. "I really like being around the whole team and experiencing a great coaching program."

At the start of the season, coach Michael Wells needed to find a way to replace seven key seniors. He wasn't expecting to get one of the best soccer players on the Western Slope to show up the first day of practice.

But he was immediately impressed and she has given the team that tenacious defender that Wells loves.

"She's really allowed us to play on the defensive end the way we've always played," Wells said. "She's the one who we use to try and take the other team's best player out of the game.

"She gives us some offense too. For not playing for as long as she has, she's really brought some leadership, some energy, some toughness, some athleticism to the team," Wells added.

Averaging about six points and three rebounds a game, along with playing that  intensity on the defensive end where she averaged 2.5 steals a game, Dere has been a big surprise for the Wildcats this season.

Wells also said the junior has helped fill a need athletically with the injury to junior Bailey Rigsby, who has missed the season with a back injury since the end of volleyball season.

Dere didn't do any research or ask about the team with her soon-to-be basketball teammates. Instead, she just flipped the switch on the decision and showed up for tryouts.

"I just thought I'd go for it and give it a shot, I make decisions really quick and when I decide on something, I go with it," she said. "I really like basketball and wanted to take some time away from soccer, so I thought 'Hey, I might as well go out and try, and see how it is.' I've absolutely loved it. The team and the coaches have been amazing, it's been a really good experience."

But soccer will always be her main sport and with the high school season coming up this spring and the fact that she's already verbally committed to Colorado Mesa, soccer is still on Dere's mind.

"It's a good break from soccer and it keeps me in shape but I really do miss training for soccer," she said.

Dere continues to get in her soccer training, working on her ball handling and shooting at an indoor facility almost daily, along with weightlifting.

Injuries are always a factor in high school sports and last year, Dere suffered a leg injury that kept her out of six games. And a couple of weeks ago, she rolled her ankle in a win over Central, but she knows she can't worry about getting injured, and she's not concerned about getting worn down before the soccer season.

"I think basketball will make me strong, more conditioned," she said.

The basketball team atmosphere has made for a special experience, and it's a little different than club and high school soccer.

"High school sports are different than club because the teams are closer. Basketball is a little different than soccer because there aren't as many girls on the (basketball) team, so you really get to bond together and we travel a lot more than soccer," she said.

But basketball hasn't been all fun. Dere admits there's one part of the game that's been supremely frustrating: Free-throw shooting.

With her aggressive style, Dere gets to the free-throw line often, but she's been an inconsistent shooter.

She laughs and says she has worked hard on her free throws.

"I sure have," she said with a laugh. "I go shoot every day and I also have a basket at my house that I shoot at too.

"I just seem to be off a tiny bit," she said. "It's been very frustrating."

It's all part of the process of getting back on the court for the first time in more than three years.

In soccer last year, she helped lead the team into the Class 5A playoffs with an 8-0 league mark.

As one of the most prolific goal scorers in the state, Dere missed those six games but still scored 15 goals, which ranked in the top five in 5A.

Soccer will always be her main sport,. but basketball has definitely been a fun No. 2 for Dere this winter.

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